Ten middle school students will compete for the title of ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’ and a $25,000 scholarship
By Geeta Goindi
Indian-American whiz kids continue to dominate national competitions that measure intellectual prowess while motivating and empowering young minds. Now, fifty percent of finalists for the highly competitive Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge are of Indian origin: Mehaa Amirthalingam, 13, of Sugar Land, Texas; Sriram Bhimaraju, 12, of Cupertino, California; Rishab Jain, 13, of Portland, Oregon; Cameron Sharma, 14, of Glen Allen, Virginia; and Krish Wadhwani, 14, of Alpharetta, Georgia.
Ten budding scientists will compete in the final event this Fall for a grand prize of 25,000 dollars, the title of ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’, and an opportunity to attend the taping of a Discovery Network show. The competition will be held over two days, October 15-16, at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the young changemakers will be evaluated on a series of challenges including a presentation of their completed project.
The finalists – next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) leaders — were selected from hundreds of competitors across the nation based on their scientific prowess, exceptional innovative and communication skills, and an uncanny ability to make a positive difference in their community, country, and around the world.
Mehaa, an eighth-grade student at Sartartia Middle School, has developed a toilet flushing system that uses both fresh and recycled water to reduce water consumption in the home. “Innovation should not degrade humanity for the sake of personal growth”, she says.
For Mehaa, the Young Scientist Challenge is “a great way to spend the summer working with great scientists of the world at 3M”. Someday, she hopes to be a patent holding engineer.
Sriram, a sixth-grader at Harker Middle School, has developed Archery Assistant, an app that improves an archer’s accuracy by correcting form in real-time using a Bluetooth sensor.
About his invention, he discloses, “I started archery and I loved it. I then noticed that I needed a tool that would help me and other people practice archery daily, so I decided that an archery project would be perfect”.
Sriram loves science and technology and feels “inspired to make an impact in the world at a young age. I wanted to be a young scientists”, he says. In the future, he hopes to be a Nobel Laureate.
Interestingly, Sriram’s favorite invention of the last ten decades is Integrated Circuit (IC) chips “because they bring innovation to the hands of young scientists like me”, he says. “Without IC chips, none of the technology I used would be functional and so many other great inventions would not exist”, he notes.
Rishab, a seventh-grade student at Stoller Middle School, desires to make the treatment of pancreatic cancer more effective. The promising young scientist has created a method that uses artificial intelligence to help accurately locate the pancreas during MRI radiotherapy.
Rishab says, “I have been very interested in STEM areas and started learning, doing research and experimenting with applications of artificial intelligence in the medicine area. This led me to my invention of my Pancreatic Cancer Deep Learning System (PCDLS) tool”.
Not one to be deterred, he believes, “Things become easy once you learn them. The monster of complex STEM problems can be tamed with experiments and trying again one more time”!
Rishab hopes to win the Young Scientist Challenge because, in his words, “it will allow me to share my ideas with the world, innovate the future and get mentorship to make my invention into a real product”.
Regarding his future career goals, he aspires to be either a biomedical engineer or a doctor so that he can “keep developing technology to find a cure for cancer and improving people’s lives”, he says.
Cameron has created a computer model that calculates the seasonal flu vaccine using artificial intelligence (AI) and deep machine learning to identify personalized flu vaccines.
An eighth-grade student at George H Moody Middle School, he credits the Young Scientist Challenge for inducing him “to think about creating an innovative solution using my knowledge of virology, immunology, genetics, computer programming and math. That led to the creation of uFlu”, he says.
Cameron, who aspires to be a biomedical engineer, is exceptionally gifted in mathematics. Last year, he earned a perfect 800 score on the math SAT and was offered a $160,000 college scholarship. According to Time magazine, only four 12-year-old students have aced the test.
Cameron is also in the top 0.2 percent in the American Mathematics Association competition that draws some 150,000 students from 2,500 middle schools worldwide. This year, he is taking college-level course AP Calculus BC which is the most advanced math course a student can take in high school.
“I know pi to the hundredth decimal and that is not precise enough”, he says.
Krish, an eighth-grade student at DeSana Middle School, hopes to find a cure for Huntington’s disease — a hereditary, progressive brain disorder. His goal is to ultimately eliminate the disease through an injectable medication using Synthetic Antibody Mimics (SyAMs) to locate and attach to a specific protein found on the surface of cancer cells.
“I am vastly passionate about Huntington’s disease”, Krish affirms. “After spending much time researching and experimenting, I wanted to show the global community that we are ever so close to developing a cure”.
Krish hopes the Young Scientist Challenge will enable him to do that. “Being able to submit an entry about a topic that I am immensely interested in on such a magnificent scientific platform is truly incredible”, he says about the competition. “Moreover, the fact of possibly working with a 3M Scientist that would harness the capabilities of my invention to the fullest level is fascinating”, he adds.
Among the other finalists are: Anna Du, 12, of Massachusetts; Julia Gelfond, 12, of Maryland; Zachary Hessler, 13, of Florida; Theodore Jiang, 13, of California; and Leo Wylonis, 13, of Pennsylvania. All ten – three girls and seven boys – are afforded an opportunity to work one-on-one with a renowned 3M Scientist during a summer mentorship program. Each student receives 1,000 dollars and an expense-paid trip to the 3M headquarters to participate in the final competition.
The Young Scientist Challenge is the nation’s premier science contest for students in grades 5 through 8. It has turned scores of young people across the nation into innovators while enhancing science exploration and honing communication skills. The goal is “to foster a new generation of American scientists at an age when interest in science generally declines”. Students are encouraged to think out of the box, to come up with innovative ideas and solutions for tomorrow’s pressing issues.
“The Young Scientist Challenge has not only supported students in achieving their dreams, but it has also provided the 3M team with the opportunity to contribute to the future of science in a special way”, said Paul Keel, senior vice president of Business Development and Marketing Sales at 3M, in a press release. “As we look toward the next chapter of 3M’s involvement in youth development, we are tremendously proud to be a part of shaping our next educators, entrepreneurs and inventors”.
Lori McFarling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Discovery Education, noted, “Year after year, we have been honored to witness firsthand the ingenuity and charisma of the nation’s youngest generation. 3M shares our unwavering support for children who, no matter their age, seize the opportunity to solve real-world problems and who encourage their peers to explore the power of science”.